It’s easy to create violence on the screen, but very rarely do it as well as John Carpenter did with 1978 Halloween. John Carpenter’s relentlessly exhilirating masterpiece about obnoxious babysitters and the murderous Michael Myers has been remade, paid homage to, imitated so many times since its premiere in 1978 that its become a tiresome act. Michael Myers is not like your typical monster movie. He doesn’t lurch or creep or race. He doesn’t scream in your face with jump scares.He walks, preying on his victims and enjoying every moment. His physicality is ordinary, and his appearance(minus the mask) tell you nothing about him. He never speaks and offers no hint of a motivation for his killing spree but, you feel his sinister tenacity.

The screenplay by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill follows a boy who kills his babysitter on Halloween night and manages to escape from a mental institution to return to the scene of the crime. Through a manic episode, Micheal Myers intends to add a few more names to his resume. In retrospect, the script offers little in terms of motivation, but it works in it’s pocket in terms of horror as the masked psychomaniac stalks his next victims.

Carpenter wrote the iconic music himself, and the widescreen cinematography is by Dean Cundey, who has stated in interviews he based the night scenes on Edward Hopper’s sinister painting Rooms for Tourists with its absence of people and pitch-black night.

Halloween certainly is ruthlessly straight forward, setting it’s eyes on the goal. Halloween is able to pivot between a group of teenage girls talking about and having sex than redirect the attention to the perspective of a sociopaths killer who escaped from a hospital to terrorize them.

Set in the fictional small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, the story capitalizes on your typical suburban neighborhood, where the streets seem clean,the houses look safe, the people seem to be friendly. That sense of security is key, and it’s earned. The movie lulls you into a safe sense of security, and it only elevates the threat levels of the film. Home is supposed to be everyone’s safe space, but that is what keeps Halloween relevant each year because it’s the movie in which everyone is at home.

Donald Pleasance stars as the doctor who has tried to keep the maniac locked up and who attempts to warn the town when he escapes. He creates a strong presence, but it’s relegated to a one-dimensional role but provides the necessary exposition of the mysterious Micheal Myers. Jamie Lee Curtis is the backbone of the film as the girl  whom the action revolves and she creates a natural, sympathetic character that other slasher films try to replicate, but to no avail.

Halloween seems to be the perfect accident. With little to no budget, a short shooting time and limited resources,  John Carpenter finds different and unique ways to create chair-gripping tension throughout while avoiding excessive blood and gore in the murder sequences. The violent actions are mostly implied rather than depicted on-screen, which only serves to heighten the effect.

There are very few themes in life more terrifying than the unknown, and Halloween thrives off of uncertainty. We see it through Donald Pleasence’s soft-spoken, albeit totally obsessed, Dr. Loomis, who’s surrounded by colleagues and officials doubting him at every turn. We see it through Jamie Lee Curtis’ introverted bookworm whose friends question everything she says. From the very beginning to the very end, the dread of the unknown hides in the shadow, similarly to our beloved serial killer.John Carpenter puts on a clinic with the precision and timing of the movie’s chilling chase scenes,  showing that it requires real and genuine artistry and a coherent perspective on fear.

The movie repeatedly places the viewer in the perspective of the killer, but it also often puts Michael Myers near the audience, lurking at the corner of the screen with his back to us, immersing viewers as if they were watching through a crack in the wall. Michael likes to watch, and he often seems more interested in instilling fear and a good scare than an efficient kill. In one memorable scene, he stages a grave for one of his victims, and when Laurie discovers it, two other corpses pop out at her, a jury-rigged spectacle.

When watching Halloween a mere 40 years later, the film is one of the very few in cinema that I can call flawless. Sure the film has some laughable or dated scenes( let alone some horrible sequels), but Halloween remains a classic that continues to inspire a genre and filmmakers to decades to come.

Grade:A+

Ananth Para
paramana@mcmaster.ca

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